Sore ankle adds Flintoff to walking wounded

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The Independent Online

The fitness of England talisman Andrew Flintoff is this morning a serious cause for concern after he aggravated an ankle injury which forced him out of the attack and allowed Sri Lanka to take a more commanding position than they might have expected in this third and final Test.

And England are not even a quarter of the way into one the most gruelling Test and one-day international programmes in their history. With a bare four months behind them and a further 15 stretching ahead of them, including the Ashes series in the winter and next year's Cricket World Cup, the chances of England maintaining a fully fit squad are looking ominous.

Captain Michael Vaughan, and pace bowlers Steve Harmison and Simon Jones are still sidelined, and yesterday saw Flintoff and two other key players being added to the ever-growing casualty list.

Kevin Pietersen hobbled off suffering from the hamstring strain with which he had entered this match; Paul Collingwood was smacked in the ribs by Lasith Malinga on Saturday and ended up in hospital yesterday for X-rays - thankfully no fracture was found, but he was still suffering and spent some of the day off the field.

But by far the most worrying member of the walking wounded was stand-in captain Flintoff. He was clearly suffering discomfort from his left ankle, enough certainly to restrict him to bowling just 10 overs. And while an ECB spokesman described it as being just "a little sore", a nation, not to mention the England selectors, is feeling that injury far more acutely.

It is the same ankle on which he had an operation to remove a bony spur in January last year. But the ECB was giving nothing away. "Andrew Flintoff is suffering soreness and discomfort in his left ankle. We will see how he is [today] and the injury will be reassessed at the end of the match."

With three wickets still to be taken, Flintoff's absence from the attack could be crucial, given the way in which he turned things around in the first innings, but apparently England confidence is high.

Monty Panesar, whose three second-innings wickets are his Test best thus far, was certainly not too bothered. "Everyone is on a high. And there are other bowlers. We are quite confident that we can get the three wickets tomorrow and then hopefully chase down the target."

Even the prospect of facing Muttiah Muralitharan on a deteriorating pitch as they chase whatever target they manage to limit Sri Lanka to - and already England will have to amass the biggest total of the match if they are to win it - did not seem to worry the left-arm spinner overly.

"The way the top six batsmen have adapted to playing spin in the last couple of years means Muralitharan is probably not such a huge threat," Panesar said. "He is someone we are pretty much aware of but are pretty confident that whatever target we are set - hopefully under 300 - we can chase it down." Although he did admit: "Anything over 350 will be a challenge."

Moment of the day

Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain, is a gentle, softly-spoken young man but he was livid with the way in which he was dismissed yesterday. Jayawardene's ire was not aimed at an umpire but himself, when he edged a Liam Plunkett half-volley through to the wicketkeeper. In disappointment he swung his bat at the stumps and knocked leg-stump out of the ground.

Shot of the day

Sanath Jayasuriya played only two scoring shots in the match but they were both memorable. Yesterday's, a beautifully-timed push at an Andrew Flintoff half-volley raced through extra cover for four runs. Sadly for Sri Lanka, Jayasuriya was out just four balls later when he attempted to sweep Monty Panesar.

Ball of the day

England's bowlers struggled to make much of an impression yesterday but Matthew Hoggard produced a beauty to dismiss Tillekeratne Dilshan. The delivery, pitched on the line of off-stump, moved away from the right-hander and trimmed the edge of his bat. Geraint Jones took the simple catch.


Sunny spells, with some cloud. Max temp: 20C

TV times

Live: Sky Sports 1, 10.30

Highlights: Five, 19.15